NRAS cautiously welcomes big changes to benefit assessments

Published: 3 Oct 2016

You may have seen the news over the weekend that speaking ahead of the Conservative party conference, the Secretary of State for Work & Pensions, Damien Green, announced a big change to the assessment process for the Employment and Support Allowance (ESA).

ESA is an income replacement benefit for disabled people. Some adults with RA/JIA claim this benefit and many have reported a less than pleasant experience of the assessment process. People with severe RA/JIA who sadly have no prospect of lessening symptoms in the near future or reversing extensive joint damage have been particularly frustrated at the need to regularly attend an assessment - the 'work capability assessment' - sometimes as often as every six months. We raise this and other issues with the government and with the private company who carry out these assessments, Maximus, on a regular basis. We welcome the announcement from Damian Green that if you have a lifelong condition that is not going to get better then you will no longer have to be repeatedly assessed in order to claim ESA. 

We must be cautious however as we await the details. Please do not assume that a list of conditions will be created that passports you on to a lifetime award, it will most likely be at the discretion of the health care professional carrying out the assessment, supported by evidence provided by your usual clinicians, that makes a judgement call on whether the claimant is likely to "get better". This is right and proper, given that with rapid diagnosis and a prompt start to effective treatment, many people diagnosed with RA/JIA today will hopefully never find themselves needing to claim a disability benefit, we would not want to confine RA to such a list. 

We will work with the government to ensure this works for people with fluctuating, long term conditions like RA and JIA. Equally, we will push for a similar approach to be adopted for the Personal Independence Payment (PIP) and continue to keep our fingers crossed for some joined up thinking whereby the assessments for ESA and PIP could be merged - wishful thinking?!

Conn O’Neill
Policy and Public Affairs Officer

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